Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Convicted of murder, Phillips has been incarcerated in Kentucky prisons since 1999. In 2014, Phillips and his cellmate got into a fight. Phillips later thought he had sprained his ankle. The pain and discoloration went away in a few weeks. Weeks later, Phillips noticed a growing lump on his calf. Dr. Tangilag measured the “mass” and ordered an ultrasound then scheduled a CT scan to rule out cancer. Phillips underwent the scan at a local hospital. Doctors concluded that a “plantaris rupture” was “related to an old injury/trauma” and assured Phillips that it was “not cancer or any bone lesion.” Phillips saw an outside orthopedic surgeon who agreed and concluded that Phillips did not need surgery. Dr. Tangilag met with Phillips a final time in August 2015. Phillips noted that he still experienced pain when walking. According to Phillips, the lump did not go away, and he continued to suffer pain.In 2016, Phillips sued, alleging that his doctors violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” by refusing to surgically remove the lump. Medical staff ordered another ultrasound, which found nothing remarkable. Phillips was given pain medication and referred to physical therapy. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Surgery is not the standard of care for a rupture, and a hematoma typically goes away on its own. Phillips lacks expert evidence suggesting that his doctors were grossly incompetent. View "Phillips v. Tangilag" on Justia Law

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The Woods brothers were members of a Detroit-based group, HNIC. The government claims that HNIC was a street gang “engaged in drug dealing, intimidation, and violence” and that the brothers participated in multiple drive-by shootings in an attempt to murder a rival gang member. Antoine Woods was indicted under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act (VICAR) for conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder in aid of racketeering, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, using, carrying, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c); and obstruction of justice. Austin Woods was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and using, carrying, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. A fellow HNIC member testified against them.The Sixth Circuit vacated Antoine’s conviction for attempted murder in aid of racketeering as violating the Double Jeopardy Clause but affirmed the brothers’ convictions on all other counts. The court rejected arguments that their 18 U.S.C. 924(c) convictions were predicated on a conspiracy charge. The indictment and jury instructions clearly stated that VICAR attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon were the predicate offenses for the section 924(c) charges. The court also rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Woods" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The federal government successfully prosecuted multiple members of the “Devils Diciples Motorcycle Club” for their role in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) enterprise, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c)(d) that trafficked large quantities of methamphetamine and engaged in numerous other illegal acts (violent crimes, illicit gambling, thefts, and obstruction of justice). The district court imposed sentences that ranged from 28 years to life in prison.In consolidated appeals, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences. The district court correctly instructed the jury to convict each defendant if it found that he joined an agreement that encompassed a future violation of the substantive RICO offense. The court also upheld the application of a two-level sentencing enhancement for maintaining drug premises under U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(b)(12) via sections 1B1.3(a)(1)(B)’s relevant-conduct provision. Nothing in section 2D.1(b)(12) “otherwise specifie[s]” that it cannot be applied based on jointly undertaken criminal activity under section 1B1.3(a)(1)(B); the district court correctly concluded that the premises enhancement could be applied to a defendant even though he did not personally maintain premises for purposes of drug manufacturing or distribution. View "United States v. Castano" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner on his claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase and that he was denied a fair trial because of jury tampering. The court concluded that the Kentucky Supreme Court's ruling that petitioner suffered no prejudice from counsel's ineffective assistance at the penalty phase by neither investigating nor presenting mitigating evidence was not contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and was not so obviously wrong as to be beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement. The court also concluded that petitioner failed to provide credible testimony of jury tampering. Finally, the court concluded that petitioner defaulted on his juror bias claim. View "Hodge v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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Osborn, an Army veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, left a threatening voicemail for Georgia Congressman Henry Johnson. Osborn pleaded guilty under 18 U.S.C. 115(a)(1)(B), (b)(4), and (c)(4). At sentencing, the district court refused to apply a four-level reduction under U.S.S.G. 2A6.1(b)(6) because it concluded that his offense did not “evidenc[e] little or no deliberation.” In doing so, the court relied on prior threats Osborn made against other government officials that are not “relevant conduct” under U.S.S.G. 1B1.3.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While the relevant conduct provision prohibited the district court from altering the base offense level using certain uncharged conduct, it did not alter its traditional fact-finding role; the court did not clearly err in concluding that Osborn’s offense evidenced more than “little or no deliberation.” View "United States v. Osborn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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While patrolling a known drug house, Sergeant Murch recognized a Buick that he had stopped twice before, each time culminating in a drug-related arrest. Murch ran the plates and discovered that the vehicle’s owner, Shehan, lacked a driver’s license. Murch saw the Buick speed away. Murch stopped the car for speeding and driving without a license. The driver identified himself as Garcia and admitted that he lacked a driver’s license. Because permitting someone without a license to drive a car violates Michigan law, the officers sought to discover whether Shehan was among the vehicle’s passengers. Two passengers gave names. The third refused to identify himself after repeated requests. A patdown of the unidentified man uncovered 11 empty plastic bags and $1033 in cash. Officers took him in for fingerprinting. Jail officials had the man remove his sweater. His arms bore tattoos: “Marc” and “Barrera.” After running the name through a database, officers confirmed that they had detained Barrera, a parole violator with outstanding arrest warrants. A strip search of Barrera revealed marijuana and cocaine. The Michigan trial court denied Barrera's suppression motion. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed his convictions.After leaving state prison, Barrera sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the officers s with respect to qualified immunity. The officers had probable cause to take Barrera to jail; his refusal to identify himself under these circumstances violated Michigan law. View "Barrera v. City of Mount Pleasant" on Justia Law

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Each of the petitioners obtained habeas relief in the Eastern District of Michigan because they were sentenced under Michigan’s formerly mandatory sentencing guidelines that included enhancements for judicially found facts. The state now agrees that Michigan’s mandatory guidelines violated the Sixth Amendment and concedes that petitioners are entitled to some form of relief but argued that instead of remanding for resentencing, the district court should have remanded the cases for a more limited remedy, a Crosby hearing, where the trial court determines whether it would have issued a materially different sentence had the Michigan guidelines been advisory rather than mandatory at the time of the original sentencing.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district courts acted within their discretion to dispose of these habeas cases as law and justice require. The U.S. Supreme Court has not clearly established whether a defendant sentenced under an unconstitutional sentencing scheme is entitled to a full resentencing or only a Crosby hearing but has a history of ordering resentencing hearings to correct Sixth Amendment violations. The fact that a full resentencing may require more state resources than a Crosby hearing is insufficient to find that ordering a resentencing is an abuse of discretion. View "Morrell v. Warden" on Justia Law

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Jackson was convicted of six counts of aggravated murder (with capital specifications), three counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of kidnapping, and one count of felonious assault, and sentenced to death. His first federal habeas corpus petition was denied in 2012. In 2020, Jackson filed the current federal habeas corpus petition, asserting that: the prosecution withheld material and exculpatory evidence in violation of "Brady," the prosecution presented false and coerced testimony in violation of "Napue," and Ohio’s postconviction scheme violates the Supremacy Clause. Jackson argued that his claims were not previously ripe for review and therefore not subject to 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)’s requirements for permission to file a successive petition.The Sixth Circuit denied Jackson’s motion for remand to the district court but granted permission to file a successive petition. It is unclear precisely how Jackson obtained the witness statements that he claims were suppressed under Brady, which bears on the question of whether “the factual predicate for the claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence.” However, Jackson’s proposed petition also explains that “the exculpatory evidence was first disclosed by the State in Clemency-related Public Records Act litigation,” which presumably would not have been available until Jackson’s date of execution approached. Jackson has also shown that “but for the constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found [him] guilty.” View "In re Kareem Jackson" on Justia Law

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Cartwright is serving a 24-year sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). When Cartwright was sentenced in 2005, seven of his past convictions qualified as violent felonies. In 2015, the Supreme Court’s “Johnson” decision invalidated ACCA’s residual clause. Johnson removed at least four of Cartwright’s offenses from the category of violent felonies. Cartwright brought a habeas petition challenging his ACCA status by arguing that his remaining convictions for burglary and aggravated assault do not support his ACCA sentence. The district court held that, even after Johnson, Cartwright still had at least three ACCA predicates because his Tennessee first- and second-degree burglaries qualified as violent felonies.The Sixth Circuit reversed. The government acknowledged that Cartwright’s claim is based on Johnson, a “new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable.” All three degrees of Tennessee burglary include entering lawfully and then opening a “receptacle” inside, with no unlawful entry or remaining required, which extends the offense beyond generic burglary, which requires unlawful entry into or remaining in. A “receptacle” in the Tennessee burglary statute need not be attached to the house. View "United States v. Cartwright" on Justia Law

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In 1992, Hunter, a 23-year-old hitman for a Detroit drug enterprise, escaped from a parole camp and killed 23-year-old Johnson, to prevent her from testifying. Hunter was convicted of intentionally killing Johnson in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, 21 U.S.C. 848(e)(1)(A), and using or carrying a firearm in relation to that killing, 18 U.S.C. 924(c). Hunter, acquitted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, four other intentional killings, and three related firearm counts, was sentenced to life in prison plus five years, the minimum under the Sentencing Guidelines then in existence. Hunter unsuccessfully sought to vacate his conviction in federal habeas proceedings and unsuccessfully sought to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), based upon retroactive Guidelines changes. After serving 21 years in prison, Hunter sought “compassionate release,” citing “extraordinary and compelling reasons” under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). The court found that the risk from COVID-19 and Hunter’s asserted health conditions were not “extraordinary and compelling” because Hunter refused the vaccine but concluded that other factors together amounted to “extraordinary and compelling circumstances”: Hunter was sentenced before the Guidelines changed from mandatory to advisory; Hunter’s “relative youth”; sentencing disparities between Hunter and co-defendants who cooperated; and Hunter’s rehabilitation. The district court weighed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, noting Hunter’s “difficult childhood,” and letters submitted by Hunter’s family and friends, and discounted Hunter’s prison discipline record. The court reduced Hunter’s sentence to time served. The Sixth Circuit granted a stay pending appeal and reversed, finding that the district court abused its discretion. View "United States v. Hunter" on Justia Law